Thursday, 28 May 2009

The Buddha of Suburbia

Title: The Buddha of Suburbia

Author: Hanif Kureishi

Number of pages: 284

Started: 18 May 2009

Finished: 28 May 2009

Opening words:

My name is Karim Amir, and I am an Englishman born and bred, almost. I am often considered to be a funny kind of Englishman, a new breed as it were, having emerged from two old histories. But I don't care - Englishman I am (though not proud of it), from the South London suburbs and going somewhere. Perhaps it is the odd mixture of continents and blood, of here and there, of belonging and not, that makes me restless and easily bored. Or perhaps it was being brought up in the suburbs that did it. Anyway, why search the inner room when it's enough to say that I was looking for trouble, any kind of movement, action and sexual interest I could find, because things were so gloomy, so slow and heavy, in our family, I don't know why. Quite frankly, it was all getting me down and I was ready for anything.

Plot summary:

The hero of Hanif Kureishi's debut novel is a dreamy teenager, desperate to escape suburban South London and experience the forbidden fruits that the 1970s seem to offer. When the unlikely opportunity of a life in the theatre announces itself, Karim starts to win the sort of attention he has been craving - albeit with some rude and raucous results.

What I thought:

I really enjoyed this book. It hasn’t got a particularly fast moving plot, but is more of an unfolding of a British born Indian teenager’s life as he grows up in, a somewhat racist, 1970’s Britain. I found the plot engaging, with some genuinely funny moments. It is very sexually explicit in places, so maybe not ideal for everyone, but it’s a good read if you’re not too bashful.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Giovanni's Room

Title: Giovanni’s Room

Author: James Baldwin

Number of pages: 159

Started: 10 May 2009

Finished: 17 May 2009

Opening words:

I stand at the window of this great house in the south of France as night falls, the night which is leading me to the most terrible morning of my life. I have a drink in my hand, the bottle is at my elbow. I watch my reflection in the darkening gleam of the window pane. My reflection is tall, perhaps rather like an arrow, my blond hair gleams. My face is like a face you have seen many times. My ancestors conquered a continent, pushing across death-laden plains, until they came to an ocean which faced away from Europe into a darker past.

I may be drunk by morning, but that will not do any good. I shall take the train to Paris anyway. The train will be the same, the people, struggling for comfort and, even, dignity on the straight-backed, wooden, third-class seats will be the same, and I will be the same.

Plot summary:

When David meets the sensual Giovanni in a bohemian bar, he is swept into a passionate love affair. But his girlfriend’s return to Paris destroys everything. Unable to admit to the truth, David pretends the liaison never happened; while Giovanni’s life descends into tragedy. United by the theme of love, the writings in the Great Loves series span over two thousand years and vastly different worlds. Readers will be introduced to love’s endlessly fascinating possibilities and extremities: romantic love, platonic love, erotic love, gay love, virginal love, adulterous love, parental love, filial love, nostalgic love, unrequited love, illicit love, not to mention lost love, twisted and obsessional love.

What I thought:

I read this book aloud and it is a good read in itself, but also very good to read out loud. It is not a cheery book, but it is a very good one. It was a beautifully written book as well. From the beginning it was clear the story would not turn out well, but the plot was very engaging as it descended to its tragic end. An excellent read.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

The Double

Title: The Double

Author: Jose Saramago

Number of pages: 304

Started: 6 May 2009

Finished: 14 May 2009

Opening words:

The man who has just come into the shop to rent a video bears on his identity card a most unusual name, a name with a classical flavor that time has staled, neither more nor less than Tertuliano Máximo Afonso. The Máximo and the Afonso, which are in more common usage, he can just about tolerate, depending, of course, on the mood he's in, but the Tertuliano weighs on him like a gravestone and has done ever since he first realized that the wretched name lent itself to being spoken in an ironic, potentially offensive tone. He is a history teacher at a secondary school, and a colleague had suggested the video to him with the warning, It's not exactly a masterpiece of cinema, but it might keep you amused for an hour and a half. Tertuliano Máximo Afonso is greatly in need of stimuli to distract him, he lives alone and gets bored, or, to speak with the clinical exactitude that the present day requires, he has succumbed to the temporary weakness of spirit ordinarily known as depression. To get a clear idea of his situation, suffice it to say that he was married but can no longer remember what led him into matrimony, that he is divorced and cannot now bring himself to ponder the reasons for the separation. On the other hand, while the ill-fated union produced no children who are now demanding to be handed, gratis, the world on a silver platter, he has, for some time, viewed sweet History, the serious, educational subject which he had felt called upon to teach and which could have been a soothing refuge for him, as a chore without meaning and a beginning without an end. For those of a nostalgic temperament, who tend to be fragile and somewhat inflexible, living alone is the harshest of punishments, but, it must be said, such a situation, however painful, only rarely develops into a cataclysmic drama of the kind to make the skin prick and the hair stand on end. What one mostly sees, indeed it hardly comes as a surprise anymore, are people patiently submitting to solitude's meticulous scrutiny, recent public examples, though not particularly well known and two of whom even met with a happy ending, being the portrait painter whom we only ever knew by his first initial, the GP who returned from exile to die in the arms of the beloved fatherland, the proofreader who drove out a truth in order to plant a lie in its place, the lowly clerk in the Central Registry Office who made off with certain death certificates, all of these, either by chance or coincidence, were members of the male sex, but none of them had the misfortune to be called Tertuliano, and this was doubtless an inestimable advantage to them in their relations with other people. The shop assistant, who had already taken down from the shelf the video requested, entered in the log book the title of the film and the day's date, then indicated to the customer the place where he should sign.

You can read more of the book here.

Plot summary:

What happens when Tertuliano Maximo Afonso, a 38-year-old professor of history, discovers that there is a man living in the same city who is identical to him on every physical detail, but not related by blood at all. And what happens when each of these men attempt to investigate each other's lives? How do we know who we are? What do we mean by identity? What defines us as individual, unique people? Could we ever come to terms with the existence of another person with our voice, our features, our everything, down to the smallest distinguishing mark? Could we change places with our double without those closest to us noticing? Dark yet comic, Jose Saramago's new novel can be read as an existential thriller, but it is above all a work of literature that immerses us in the essential questions of life. It is certain to become a 21st-century classic.

What I thought:

This was a weird, but enjoyable book. It did take a bit of getting used to the writing style. Sentences ran on for more than a page and conversations which ran on with no indication of when the person speaking changed. But it was an interesting plot and one that was written in an engaging way. A good book that considered the somewhat unusual subject of what happens when you find your exact double out there…

Friday, 1 May 2009

The Devil and Miss Prym

Title: The Devil and Miss Prym

Author: Paulo Coelho

Number of Pages: 224

Date started:29 April 2009

Date finished: 1 May 2009

Opening words:

For almost fifteen years, old Berta had spent every day sitting outside her front door. The people of Viscos knew that this was normal behaviour amongst old people: they sit dreaming of the past and of their youth; they look out at a world in which they no longer play a part and try to find something to talk to the neighbours about.

Berta, however, had a reason for being there. And that morning her waiting came to an end when she saw the stranger climbing the steep hill up to the village, heading for its one hotel. He did not look as she had so often imagined he would: his clothes were shabby, he wore his hair unfashionably long, he was unshaven.

And he was accompanied by the Devil.

You can read the first chapter here


A new novel from Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist. A stranger arrives in the small mountain village. He carries with him a backpack containing a notebook and eleven gold bars. Burying these in the vicinity, the stranger strikes up a curious friendship with a young woman from the village -- Miss Prym. His mission is to discover whether human beings are essentially good or evil. In this stunning new novel, Paulo Coelho's unusual protagonist sets the town a moral challenge from which they may never recover. A fascinating meditation on the human soul, The Devil and Miss Prym illuminates the reality of good and evil within us all, and our uniquely human capacity to choose between them.

What I thought:

I am not really much of a fan of Paulo Coelho. I can’t really see the fascination with him. But, having said that, I did think this was one of his better stories. There was an interesting dilemma presented by the book and also it had a slight fairytale element to it. It was more readable and less pretentious than some of his other books.